Projected Starting Lineup:
Coach: Eddie Jordan
The good: A healthy hungry Hibachi helps his home team as he returns from injury to be the most eccentric yet deadliest player in the league.
The Wizards never had a chance entering the playoffs versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. All-stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler both suffered season ending injuries right before the first round matchup leaving forward Antawn Jamison to fend for himself. Now that Butler and Arenas are healthy, expect to see the best trio in the NBA last season. They have no shortage of youth as 2006 first round selection Oleksiy Pecherov and 2007 first round Nick Young provide much needed punch off the bench. The Southeast Division has gotten stronger in some areas, but weaker in others, so this Wizards team has everything to gain. They can create so much havoc in the playoffs if healthy. If Gilbert Arenas continues on his torrid pace of hitting clutch shots, the Wizards will be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the league.
The bad: Arenas and Butlers injuries last season exposed a roster that is very thin. Not good for a team trying to keep their star guard.
Arenas has stated that he will opt out of his deal at seasons end to test the free agent market. Although the aforementioned Young and Pecherov will bolster a thin bench, the loss of starting center Etan Thomas to a heart condition will hurt. His backup and occasional foe Brendan Haywood will have to take his place and at some point, find the heart he has always lacked. Eddie Jordan will have his hands full, especially if the injury bug strikes once again. One of the three best teams in the league for most of the season, injuries caused them to fall to .500 and the 7th seed in the East. Theres no safety net for this team, making Arenas and Butler much more valuable.
The outlook: 3rd in the East, 1st in the division, good health, a lot of game winners from Agent Zero, BUT another first round matchup with the Cavs, another first round loss, a following offseason of concern over Arenas desire to stay in DC.
Projected Starting Lineup:
SF Ricky Ravis
SG Dwyane Wade
Coach: Pat Riley
The good: Anytime you have a healthy Shaq and D-Wade on your team, you always have a chance to win.
Injuries took a major toll on this team heading into their first round matchup with the upstart Chicago Bulls. Dwyane Wade tried to grit his teeth and try to play through a damaged shoulder, but it was not enough as they lost to the Bulls in a sweep. (note: Wade is slated to miss the first few weeks of the season recovering from shoulder surgery) However, once Wade is able to return, he is one of the best scorers in the NBA and can single handedly carry a team to victory. I believe Shaq will have a bounce back season statistically as he tries to get one more championship before retirement talk begins to settle in.
After trading to get Daequan Cook in the 2007 Draft, the Heat will have instant offense off the bench. Point guard Jason Williams has something to play for in a contract year. The recently acquired Ricky Davis also has alot to prove, and Miami may not be done yet with rumors of Mike Bibby, and Ron Artest fading but still lingering. The wild card is forward Dorrell Wright. The high school product needs to start so he can show how good he can be. If given that opportunity, a breakout season may be on the horizon.
The bad: Injuries, food, and lack of desire threaten to destroy this once championship team.
The Heat had a terrible offseason, failing to land another impact player or scorer (Lakers fans will tell you free agent acquisition Smush Parker is not that). As previously stated, Wade is going to miss time this season over an injury he should have taken care of last season. The Heat got old very quickly as Shaq and Alonzo Mourning got another year older (Mourning has stated he will retire after the season ends). Add that to the fact that Shaq likes to take half of the season off to nurse injuries and you now have a team that features Dwyane Wade and a bunch of question marks. With the talent in the Southeast division developing, the window of opportunity is closing for the Heat.
The outlook: 8th in the East, 2nd in the division, a first round exit once again, and a serious debate over whether this team needs to rebuild around Wade again. They get in by the skin of their teeth.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Coach: Stan Van Gundy
The good: Dwight Howard is still improving.
The Orlando Magic re-signed center Dwight Howard to a 5 year $85 million deal this summer. Good, because Howard is an absolute beast. Finishing third in rebounds per game, Howard is one low post move away from being the scariest young big man in the NBA. Helping in providing Howard with an offensive is game is former Heat head coach Stan Van Gundy. After Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan accepted a 5 year deal only to renege a week later, Stan will be the savior of Central Florida.
Newly acquired forward Rashard Lewis will bring his 22.4 PPG from the Seattle Supersonics to the Magic Kingdom. This team is young and athletic with guard Trevor Ariza ready to shine after being buried on the Knicks bench to start his career. If they get a lead late, then the game is pretty much over with J.J. Redick on the line. After former coach Brian Hill failed to use him, expect to see more playing time for the former Duke star.
The bad: For a team that has many impending free agents, spending so much money on Rashard Lewis might be a move they will regret down the line.
This is a team filled with young shooters and point guards. The problem is, there isnt enough money to give out to these players. Guards Trevor Ariza and J.J. Redick are due for extensions and the Magic cannot afford to lose them. After all, they did misuse and lose center Darko Milicic to the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason. Now with Tony Battie out with a rotator cuff injury, they are severely thin at the power forward and center spots. They will miss Darko more than they could have deemed imaginable. Maybe giving Lewis $110 million over 6 years might not pay off the way theyd like. Also, some players have to step up. Carlos Arroyo looks like Steve Nash in Olympic play, but like a third stringer in the NBA. Somehow, he must put everything together and be effective as do Redick, Ariza, and center James Augustine who will now have a bigger role in Batties absence.
The outlook: 9th in the east, 3rd in the division, and an always happy Howard becoming frustrated.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PF Josh Smith
SG Joe Johnson
PG Acie Law IV
Coach: Ron Woodson
The good: Stop the presses! The Hawks finally drafted a point guard! His name is Acie Law IV.
Although the Hawks did not land Greg Oden or Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft, they had the #3 and #11 picks respectively to add to their young core of players. #3 pick and Florida Gators standout Al Horford is my pick for Rookie of the Year. While everyone else is out sipping the Durant Kool-Aid, Horford will show everyone that he is the most NBA ready player to come out of this draft class. He alongside Shelden Williams aka The Landlord aka Mr. Candace Parker will give the Hawks a much needed low post presence.
The Hawks are never short on swingmen, but at least they have some great talent at those positions. Josh Smith is ready to win a Defensive Player of the Year award at his progressive rate and Joe Johnson is one of the best shooting guards in the NBA, let alone the Eastern Conference. The biggest acquisition for them was passing up Ohio State guard Mike Conley at #3 and taking Acie Law IV out of Texas A&M. Although Law still needs time to fully learn the NBA PG position, he will show everyone that Atlanta can make a run at their first playoff appearance since 1999.
The bad: Coach Mike Woodson is on a short leash. He might not be around to watch the Hawks fly high.
Mike Woodson has had plenty of time to get this Hawks team competitive. Unfortunately, with ownership in disarray and lack of fan support in Atlanta, its hard to get this team going. Woodson unfortunately will be a coach that will get fired before the team truly gets better. Now, with so much youth, one wonders how it hasnt paid off yet. GM Billy Knight has unnecessarily overstocked certain positions while leaving others, mainly point guard, thin. His biggest faux pas was drafting UNC bench player Marvin Williams #2 overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, right before the triumvirate of Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Raymond Felton. Oooww. If Marvin cant show signs of being a franchise level type of forward, Atlanta just might have to take a L on this experiment and move on. This team is one year from hitting greatness, but they have to play out this year first.
The outlook: 10th in the East, 4th in the division.
Projected Starting Lineup:
Coach: Sam Vincent
The good: Gerald Wallace and Jason Richardson are ready to be one of the most lethal duos in the Eastern Conference.
The Bobcats have a done a good job since their creation in 2004. Last season Gerald Wallace emerged as their best player, showing the promise fans were deprived of seeing when he was on the Sacramento Kings. With a draft day trade sending #8 overall pick Brandan Wright to Golden State Warriors for star guard Jason Richardson, now the Bobcats have two scorers Raymond Felton can pass to.
First year coach Sam Vincent has a lot to look forward to as J-Rich and Wallace combined with franchise center Emeka Okafor can become a devastating three-fifths of a starting lineup. Also, Walter Herrmann and Matt Carroll were big surprises as they were both signed off the scrap heap and produced very well during the second half of the season, giving them added depth. First round pick Jared Dudley will bring a hard nosed edge to this team as it is now developing a new identity as a physically imposing squad.
The bad: Injuries are already decimating the team before the season starts. The last thing they need now is an inconsistent Raymond Felton.
Sean May and Adam Morrison, both supposed to be key members of the Bobcats bench, will be out for the season with knee injuries. That is a big blow to this team who have had to deal with an injury prone Okafor and inconsistent play from their point guard Raymond Felton. The 5th pick of the 2005 NBA Draft, he has found himself one step behind Deron Williams and Chris Paul in terms of development. Now is the time for Felton to get better now that Brevin Knight has moved on to the Los Angeles Clippers. He needs to cut down on the turnovers and become more assertive. Okafor in a contract must try to remain healthy because he helps no one in street clothes.
The outlook: 12th in the East, 5th in the division, but this says more about the division than about the team. This division has potential to be the best one in the next year or two.